Deep Inside Hole in the Wall

Well this is pretty crazy…

The thought floats to the surface of my consciousness as my bubbles cascade against the gnarled ceiling just inches above my head, slipping through invisible porous slivers in the ironshore and cascading through a impossibly interwoven stream of eons-old coral fossils to escape, unnoticed, on the surface twenty feet above my head.

Twenty vertical feet, I remind myself.

I am wedged forty feet inside a tiny fissure in the fore reef at Hole in the Wall dive site near West End, Roatan, Honduras. An ominous hallway of unexplored darkness looms before me, beckoning me to shed my dive light deeper into the cave. The last inklings of Caribbean sunlight illuminate my hands as I loop my line around an outcropping on the prickly cave wall—in the event that silt from the cave floor obscures my sight, this tie-off may be all that helps me escape from a subterranean drowning.

I draw a slow circle around the next chamber in the cave, memorizing the contours of the craggy walls. I inspect the intermittent puffs of silt tumbling as my bubbles strike the ceiling. I extend a finger into the cave floor. Slime. The organic ooze of congealed decomposition. A chamber of things long deceased. This chamber sees very little tidal movement. Visibility could be an issue on the way out.

Pretty damn crazy.

The tie-off is secure. My elbows push against the walls, gently propelling my forward in the room. I sweep the light to the right. The floor slopes slightly into an impenetrable taper in the wall. Hovering motionless as to not perturb the glob of decay on the floor, I slowly sweep my light across the room.

What is that?

Swollen, slippery, and prickly, a fully exposed Deer Cowery inches along the rocky edifice. A flash of fluorescent red. A copper lobster retreats tail-first into a crevice, startled by the sudden intrusion of illumination in its impenetrable abode. Eyes glow in the darkness.

To the left, the cave slopes slightly upward and into another room. I pull my fins behind me head, give a subtle flick of the ankle, and glide forward. My line pulls taught. Eighty-five feet inside. It’s the end of the line for both my reel and the cave, as my light discloses no further penetrable passageways. The silt is bad in here. Time to turn.

And what is THAT?!

Black Brotula

It’s motionless. Hovering, just inches from my light, is an alien. No, wait, it’s a fish. But what the hell is it?! Never in my four-plus years of scuba diving on Roatan have I seen this creature! It doesn’t react to the light. It’s a four-inch-long obsidian rippling tail with an obscenely upturned mouth.

Wait, is that another? And another! Holy crap!

I swing my light around the room, revealing at least twenty Black Brotulas lingering along the cave walls, wiggling like tadpoles from Mars. And then they disappear.

The silt wells up in front of my light, instantaneously reducing my visibility to nil. My light penetrates only inches into the globs of aquatic goo. My fingers lock around my line—my lifeline— and feel the fibers guiding me to safety. I remember my days of Divemaster training frigid murk of a North Carolina rock quarry.

I’ve been here before.

I inch forward, relying on the pressure of the line and my memory of the cave to lead the way. My right hand traces the wall. The light penetrates a little further. This must be the entrance the room. My left hand reaches out.

And then the wall moves. A pair of antennas rake my mask.

Damn lobsters.

I wiggle through the entrance on my elbows. This room is silted too. It’s shadow diving at it’s finest—analyzing the indistinguishable smear of soil and light to discern shapes, walls, ceilings, direction, and ultimately the way out. The reel turns one click at a time in my hand. Regulate the breathing. Focus. One click at a time.

And there’s the light. The cloud of silt dissipates. A quick loop of the reel unhooks my last tie off. Hand spinning quickly, I reel my way toward the cave mouth, undoing the tie-offs from earlier.

And there she is: that blue, that endless blue, the Caribbean blue that sears my soul with my love of life, living, and thankfully staying alive.

And here I am: a hovering cloud of cave dust, metal, neoprene, and smiles.

I love my life.

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